Marcus Peters sensed his team needed a play Sunday.
Peters, a Chiefs rookie cornerback, noticed that Minnesota quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was looking his way. Peters also realized he was defending a tight end on a vertical route while another receiver broke toward him on a crossing route. So he decided to take a gamble.
What happened next was a big reason the Chiefs selected Peters, a 6-foot, 197-pounder, with the 18th overall pick in the NFL Draft. He abandoned his man, broke hard on the ball and beat Bridgewater’s intended receiver, Mike Wallace, to the spot.
Peters’ pick, which came in the fourth quarter with his team trailing by 10, led to the Chiefs’ only touchdown in their 16-10 loss to the Vikings.
And while the Chiefs fell to 1-5, the play is an example of why the play of their first-round pick has been a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing season.
“If you really study that play, that was a heck of a play,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “That was a crossing route coming from the other side. He held his guy off and had vision back to that and had the instincts enough and awareness to take care of it; that was a big-time play.”
The Vikings acknowledged as much.
“It was one of those plays where he understood who was our flanker on that play and we had a tight end out there, (so) I guess he was confident that we weren’t going to throw it deep to a tight end or something like that,” Bridgewater said. “It was a great play by him.”
Bridgewater added that he was expecting Peters to continue carrying the tight end up the field, which he technically was supposed to do.
“They were in man coverage, so he just came off of his guy and I guess he expected the ball to be thrown, or he had a timer in his head,” Bridgewater said. “Like I said, it was one those plays that you see a lot of veterans make, so to see him make that play, it speaks volumes to the kind of player he is.”
Through six games, Peters ranks third on the Chiefs in tackles with 31 and is tied for fourth in the NFL with three interceptions. He also leads the team in passes defensed with 10, which is twice as many as the next closest player, safety Ron Parker (five).
Peters’ instincts have taken him a long way this season, as his ability to diagnose routes and route combinations is advanced for a rookie. His interception was an example of this.
“I just had eyes on the quarterback,” Peters said. “I had a tight end on me so I wasn’t too worried about getting beat deep. I saw that they had a crosser coming across and he was staring him down the whole way.
“I just knew my safeties were coming from somewhere, and Eric (Berry) did a wonderful job to get back over the me. So I just took a chance, man, and just gambled and it worked in our favor.”
The way Peters was able to bounce back with a strong performance against the Vikings after he was whistled for a game-changing pass-interference penalty in a loss to the Chicago Bears a week before was also encouraging for the Chiefs.
“He’s a young guy, so … (and) he hears me say it to him all the time … you just stay aggressive and something good is going to happen,” Reid said.
The timing for his interception against the Vikings couldn’t have been better, either. The Chiefs were trailing 13-3 at the time and desperately needed someone to swing momentum.
“When a big play is needed, it takes somebody to step up,” Peters said. “I just had to step up and make the play when it happened.”
After the play was whistled dead, Peters jogged up the sideline and handed the football to Reid, who calls offensive plays.
“He didn’t say anything,” Peters said of Reid’s reaction. “He handed the ball right back to the official, and he went down there and put some points on the board.”
Indeed. A few plays later, Reid caught the Vikings in a blitz and dialed up a perfectly timed screen pass to receiver Albert Wilson, who sprinted 42 yards untouched for a touchdown that cut the deficit to 13-10 with 8:55 left.
In retrospect, Reid — who often talks about the need to find energy-givers — chuckled when he recalled Peters’ gesture after the pick.
“I took it (as) he knew I was there with him and he said, ‘Here, go try to score a touchdown now,’ ” Reid said. “So that’s what we needed to do.”